The suggestion sparked controversy throughout the farms of central Johnson County.
For those living in the area around Hurricane Creek, church was the focal point of the community. Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians all had their own congregations and church buildings, coming together not just for worship but for meals, festivals and other activities.
But three small churches in such a sparsely populated area were struggling to survive. That’s when leaders from all three denominations floated an idea: Coming together in one church.
The unorthodox idea was the start of Community Congregational Church, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary Sunday. The church has grown and evolved during the past century, shifting to a greater focus on missions and local outreach as the area around Hurricane Creek grows.
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“While we’re grateful for our past and expectant for our future, it’s incumbent on us to carry on what those six gentlemen who met 100 years ago started,” said Jerry Lindsey, a longtime member of Community Congregational Church. “That’s a challenge that’s been put on our shoulders.”
The first church in the Hurricane Creek area was built in 1836, when Methodists joined with Baptists and United Bethren congregations in a log church known as “Friendship.” Eventually, the congregations built their own worship spaces.
By 1880, the brick structure that is still the home of Community Congregational Church was dedicated by the Methodists.
But in 1917, leaders from the small churches in Hurricane found themselves pondering a difficult question.
“Those three churches were kind of struggling from World War I, and times were hard. At the funeral of one of the members, there was a discussion about the three churches merging into one,” Lindsey said.
Individuals from each church started to meet to talk about what this merger would look like. As expected, the concept was both praised and met with considerable pushback, particularly from the older generation of church members, Lindsey said.
“In one of the histories of the church, it was said they sympathized, rather than censored, those who chose not to vote for the merger,” he said. “They were tolerant.”
The first service of the newly united Hurricane Community Congregational Church was conducted on Sept. 16, 1917, named so as not to offend any one congregation in the new church, Lindsey said.
During the years, the church campus grew. A parsonage was built in 1918, then an expansion to the main worship building added Sunday school classrooms and a basement kitchen in 1947. A second expansion to the classrooms and basement was done in 1986.
Lindsey has been going to Community Congregational Church since he was a child, and has experienced firsthand what it has meant to the area.
He remembers when men of the church used to come together for regular croquet games on the property’s front lawn. The matches became so popular that the church eventually built a lighted playing field.
They played horseshoes on Sunday afternoon, and had an annual pork chop dinner and a harvest celebration.
“When we started going here, it was the social center of the community,” Lindsey said.
But as new generations of members started attending, and as people’s relationship with religion changed, so did the atmosphere around the church, said member Bill Kirklin.
“Probably sometime in the ’80s, it began to evolve into a deeper faith community than a social community,” he said. “We’ve seen more people deepening their commitment to God, and using that to serve the community.”
The Sunday worship service, small group meetings and service opportunities all work together to help people fully connect with God, McLaughlin said. Impact teams help organize the church’s talents, members and funding to help support organizations such as the Interchurch Food Pantry, the Refuge and KIC-IT.
Community Congregational Church’s mission is to invite people into a growing relationship with God, and those programs help them achieve that, said Dan McLaughlin, lead pastor of the church.
“One of the things that we want to do is engage the community in positive and productive ways,” he said. “One of the phrases we use is ‘Love, Grow, Serve.’ That’s how we identify our simple, straight-forward path to spiritual development. Each of those words represent a step we want people to take in their relationship with God.”
The church will come together Sunday for a casual meet-and-greet time before worship service. Historic displays with items from the church history will be set out for people to see.
Following the service, a “heritage lunch” will be conducted. Church members have researched historical recipes from the past 100 years, and will make some of the most popular dishes, with an emphasis on dessert.
“We want to make it a celebration, and recognize and honor the past,” McLaughlin said. “What we’ll have as the meal are foods from the heritage of the church that were significant and meaningful.”
As the church has been looking to the past, it has also been envisioning how it might change in the future. Just as the church leaders came together 100 years ago to adapt to difficulties they were facing, so will the current and next generation of leaders need to be flexible for what comes next.
“A lot of churches struggle with tradition, routine, ‘This is what we’ve always done.’ Moving forward is hard,” Kirklin said. “The character of the church when it began was a farm community. That dynamic has changed considerably, so our expectations have to change — how does the church grow?”
When: 9 a.m. to about noon Sunday
Where: 4592 N. Hurricane Road, Franklin
What: A recognition of the past 100 years of history at Community Congregational Church.
Schedule: A meet-and-greet session will start at 9 a.m., followed by worship service at 10. A heritage lunch will take place after worship service.
Who can come: Open to the public